The popularity of cheese in the diet, either as a food or ingredient, is continuing to grow on a worldwide basis and the same is happening in South Africa. Improved quality, wider variety and consumer education are positive factors in a stronger demand for this natural product. Industrial Cheddar, Mozzarella and Feta are still storming ahead and will remain the volume heroes while playing an important role in teaching new consumers the benefits and convenience of cheese. However, in California, Wisconsin, UK, France, Australia and South Africa it is the artisan cheese makers who are driving the new varieties and flavours.
South African consumers are currently putting gentle pressure on local cheese makers to supply greater volumes of their favourites but also of new and exciting types. Retailers, on the other side of the supply chain, are vying to list new cheeses, even those from the smallest artisan cheese makers in the deep countryside. In the past retailers used to advertise industrial cheese as known-value-items but nowadays it is not unusual to see double-page cheese advertisements in the daily newspapers. Cheese is indeed one of the food flavours of the month
Changing lifestyles and the discovery of new applications for cheese are incentives for food journalists and chefs to write regular articles featuring cheese in all types of media. Consumers, not only the innovators amongst them, are willing readers and followers of any recipe with cheese as an ingredient. The South Africa Cheese Festival remains the premier event to view and taste the widest cheese selection and the fact that the daily number of visitors has to be pecked at 5 500 for each of the four days, is proof of the popularity of cheese and the enjoyment it can deliver.
The quality of South African cheese is improving, and those which compete at international competitions in the USA and UK, regularly return with Bronze, Silver and Gold medals. It is therefore not surprising that Agri-Expo has twice been asked during the immediate past to organise tasting sessions of South African cheeses in Beijing and Manila. Even in those countries the true turophiles are interested to learn about the cheeses made at the southern tip of Africa.
However, South African cheese is still in its infancy, compared to world standards, and cheese makers should continuously strive to surpass the expectations of their local clients. Only then can they sit back and enjoy a glass wine, with their cheese.